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The problem of drugs in the US is getting worse every day, and with the constant influx of more potent and dangerous versions and mixtures of these drugs, countless lives are being strangled in the cycle of pain and addiction. The lives being affected, and in many cases, destroyed by these drugs are not just the lives of the individuals living with chemical dependency and addiction, but the lives of those who care about them as well. Loved ones, family, and friends suffer and are all made victims by those who become caught in the vicious cycle of addiction.

An addiction and chemical dependence can be formed from any drug with addictive potential, not only illicit street drugs. Those prescribed medications by doctors or other healthcare professionals legitimately can also be at risk for misuse, which can quickly become addictions of their own if the signs aren’t recognized quickly.

One popular group of drugs that are widely abused is stimulants. This drug type is made up of drugs that act on the central nervous system to increase its activity, including illicit drugs like cocaine and crystal meth and prescription drugs like Adderall and Ritalin. Those who use stimulants will often experience increased brain and nervous activity, far less sleep, sharper focus, and elevated heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration rates.

Even more popular and dangerous than stimulants are opioids, or drugs derived from the common opium poppy. Opioids are some of the most powerful painkillers and depressant drugs, including heroin, fentanyl, oxycodone, morphine, and Dilaudid. These drugs slow the body down significantly, reducing heart rate and blood pressure, causing respiratory depression, intense sleepiness, and often a large reduction in coordination.

What is Speedballing?

Speedballing is a form of polysubstance abuse where an individual mixes a dose of an opioid, usually heroin, with a dose of a stimulant, usually cocaine, though amphetamine and methamphetamine are also known to be used. The two substances are combined, then snorted or injected directly into the bloodstream. This is usually done for one of two reasons. The first is that they seek a stronger effect, and the other is that the combination can extend the duration.

While either drug used in the speedballing mixture is incredibly dangerous, addictive, and even potentially deadly on its own, combining them can often lead to amplified risks and unpredictable situations. For example, heroin is known for slowing down breathing, while cocaine increases the body’s demand for oxygen. This can create the potential for a wide variety of dangers and risks for those that simultaneously use the drugs required for speedballing.

What Are the Effects of Cocaine?

Cocaine is a powerful stimulant with various effects experienced by those who use it. The effects are due to the powerful way that cocaine alters the activity of the central nervous system and speeds it up. 

There are several effects that cocaine produces in the body and the brain, including:

  • Rush of euphoria
  • Significant reduction in appetite
  • Much more sociable outlook or disposition
  • Elevated alertness
  • Increased focus and concentration
  • Reduction in ADD/ADHD symptoms

One of the reasons that cocaine can build a chemical dependency and addiction in those who use it is partly due to its short duration. In most cases, the user will feel the effects begin to fade within an hour. This causes the user to take larger doses or to dose more frequently, which helps to reinforce the use-reward cycle and increases the strength and severity of withdrawal symptoms when the usage is reduced or stopped.

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What Are the Effects of Heroin?

Heroin creates the incredibly strong effects known for binding to the opioid receptors in the user’s brain, creating a significant dopamine rush. This creates pain relief effects in those prescribed opioids and the intense feelings of euphoria and the deep relaxation sensation of those who abuse opioids recreationally.

Dopamine is one of the most potent feel-good compounds that the body can create. The dopamine level alteration from opioids like heroin creates drastic changes in the reward pathways and lays the foundation for an incredibly strong chemical dependency in the user. There are additional dangers presented by the intravenous method of administration that is most popular since it is frequently responsible for the eventual exposure to blood-borne pathogens and viral infections.

The most commonly reported effects of heroin include:

  • Pain relief
  • Euphoria
  • Sense of calm or well-being
  • A feeling of personal detachment or depersonalization
  • Low blood pressure and heart rate
  • An easy route to escapism
  • Drowsiness or sleepiness
  • Loss of coordination and muscular control

What Are the Effects of Speedballing?

When an individual mixes cocaine and heroin for speedballing, they are not only assuming the risks of the individual drugs but also introducing potentially dangerous synergistic effects each component drug can have on the other. There are also the intensely powerful or long-lasting effects that the user desires, which may be attractive to the user, but may also prove very dangerous or deadly.

Since heroin slows the central nervous system down and cocaine speeds it up, the individual speedballing will often not feel as “high” as they normally would because of the opposite effects. Additionally, cocaine wears off much quicker than heroin, meaning that when the mixture is injected, some individuals may be setting a time-delay overdose for themselves. 

Additional side effects of speedballing include:

  • Elevated heart rate
  • Depressed breathing rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Incoherence and confusion, which can lead to intense paranoia
  • Blurred vision
  • Drowsiness
  • Uncontrollable muscle movements
  • Loss of coordination
  • Stupor

While many users may initially enjoy these pleasurable and almost overwhelming intoxicating effects, they also are inherent to the danger that speedballing presents. Increasing the potential of tragedy even further, whether they snort or inject it, individuals who practice speedballing will often consume the mixture several times per occasion.

The Dangers of Speedballing

The dangers of speedballing, or mixing cocaine and heroin in any capacity, are well-known and have claimed countless lives, including many celebrities. The main source of these dangers lies in consuming two intensely opposite drugs and the burden on the body to process and metabolize the drugs. This is exacerbated by the tendency of speedballers to use more than they realize due to not feeling the full effects of either substance.

Since the two drugs have opposite effects, it can be hard to tell that anything may be wrong until it is too late and an overdose is imminent. The intense change in central nervous system activity can be extremely hard on the body’s systems and organs, with the cocaine ramping them up then wearing off, and the heroin still active in the system, then bringing functions to a screeching halt.  Many potential dangers that users face in the short term can be deadly, while long-term dangers can be life-altering.

The dangers of speedballing are related to a large degree to the effects of the two components essentially fighting over having the greatest effect on the central nervous system. Even those who experience speedballing relatively often may experience different effects or dangers each time.

Some immediate dangers include:

  • Cocaine overdose
  • Heroin overdose
  • Stroke
  • Aneurysm
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Heart failure
  • Respiratory failure
  • Coma
  • Death

Even when an individual is a long-term user of speedballing, they may begin to experience some of the long-term effects of the component drugs. This can vary depending on many factors, such as potency, dosage, frequency of use, and even the medical history and physical shape of the individual consuming the drugs.

Long-term dangers include large amounts of damage to the brain’s reward pathways and pleasure centers, leaving some individuals suffering lifelong effects. Some become incapable of feeling the same degree of happiness that they once felt while partaking in favorite activities, while others suffer from long-term depression or other mental illnesses. Additional dangers of long-term use include difficulty learning and problems creating, storing, and recalling memories.

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Why It's Imperative to Seek Addiction Help if Speedballing

If you or someone you care about may be addicted to speedballing, there is no better time to speak confidentially to an experienced addiction professional. Reach out today to discuss potential treatment plans with a local addiction counselor, and begin laying the groundwork for a long and successful recovery.

Working with addiction specialists in a clean and safe environment can help the individual complete the detox and withdrawal stage with dignity, with medical supervision to help prevent potential medical complications. In addition, following detox success, the individual can work on developing more effective coping mechanisms to help maximize the chances of avoiding any future relapse.

Source:

Infinite Recovery has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations for our references. We avoid using tertiary references as our sources. You can learn more about how we source our references by reading our editorial guidelines and medical review policy.

  1. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Substance Abuse / Chemical Dependency. Accessed June 30, 2022. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/substance-abuse-chemical-dependency
Amanda Stevens, BS

Medical Content Writer

Amanda Stevens, BS

Amanda is a prolific medical content writer specializing in eating disorders and addiction treatment. She graduated Magnum Cum Laude from Purdue University with a B.S. in Social Work. As a person in recovery from disordered eating, she is passionate about seeing people heal and transform. She writes for popular treatment centers such as Ocean Recovery, Ascendant NY, The Heights Treatment, Epiphany Wellness, New Waters Recovery and adolescent mental health treatment center BasePoint Academy. In her spare time she loves learning about health, nutrition, meditation, spiritual practices, and enjoys being the a mother of a beautiful daughter.

Last medically reviewed June 30, 2022

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